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  Railroads of Madison County
Maurice Lewman

Michigan Division
Water Tanks and Fast Motor Cars

Feb 17, 2001
The young people see the big diesel locomotives run by and wonder how many cars they are pulling, never thinking about the maintenance involved. Maintenance for every day operations are pretty much, fill up the fuel tank, check the water and oil and go. I have been on locomotives that have run out of fuel or water. Sometimes the solution is to call out the local bulk fuel oil dealer. For the water, the local fire department gets the chance to operate the pumper truck. The younger generation understands this, connecting this with the automobile, trucks and etc.

With the steam engine, water was the thing. They use large amounts of water and to keep them supplied, water tanks were located beside the tracks at various locations. On the Michigan Division south end, South Anderson to Jeffersonville there were six water plugs or tanks between the terminals. On the north end, South Anderson to Elkhart there were seven water plugs or tanks between terminals. A short explanation of a water plug and water tank. Knightstown and Summitville were examples of water tanks because the water spout was connected to the water tank. The water plug was remote from the tank or the supply as at Marion and Warsaw. (See Michigan Division Water Stops for tank and plug locations.)

The NYC road engines had tenders that held 11,000-15,000 gals. of water. The coal capacity from the H-10 thru the L-4 was from 21-43 tons. On a trip from Jeffersonville to Greensburg on #78 with sixty cars, the L-2, L-3 and L-4 used about 6,000 gallons of water to North Vernon and 25-2700 gallons from North Vernon to Greensburg.

Leaving G-burg we would take water at Rushville and that would only leave about 38 miles to South Anderson. The two places with the best water was Wabash and Knightstown. Each plug or tank had its own personality. North Vernon was slow. You would put the spout in the tender and tie it down, go eat and when you came back the tank was full. I only weighed 140 lbs. and some of the spouts were hard to pull down because the counterweights were almost as heavy as I was. The tank at Summitville was the worst. When you pulled the rope to open the water valve, the water came rushing out and you had to have the spout tied down or try to hold the spout in with the lid on the tender by standing on the lid. I have seen firemen over six feet tall and weighing 180-190 lbs. standing on the spout and be lifted up and thrown from the tender. These are a few of the little things that happened while firing steam.

I was talking to Tom Allison, owner of the CKS (Carthage, Knightstown and Shirley), tourist railroad this summer and we were discussing the motor car runs on the CKS and other short lines. I thought I might tell how the motor cars operated under traffic on the Michigan Division. To save some questions, yes they were called track car or motor car. When I started on an extra gang in June 1947, motor cars were still running on lineups.

A little background on the cars. Until about 1950 the motor cars, when the sections received them, were stripped. The men had to build the fronts the tops and the side curtains themselves. In 1948, I started working at Markleville for section foreman, Herman Garrison. Herman and the other man did not want to run the car, so the 18-year-old got the job. Herman would get the lineup from the operator when going to work. The lineup consisted of the trains that were going to run for 3 or 4 hours and the times they were called. You were free to run against or away from these trains based on their running time or if on straight track, when you saw the headlight or smoke.

Herman would rather run against a train than away. One morning we had to go to Shirley for a piece of boiler plate to span from a platform to the floor of a boxcar. Our regular car was at Greensburg for repairs and we were using a small 1-3 man car that the lamplighters and supervisors used. These cars would run 45-50 mph. We left Markleville for Shirley about 7:15 am, arrived at Shirley and loaded the boiler plate while Herman received a lineup to go north. The dispatcher said #71 was on his air and would be leaving South Anderson shortly. I asked Herman how far he thought we would go for #71 because the plate made it difficult to handle the motor car off the track at a setoff or road crossing. Herman said he wanted to go to the siding at Markleville and head in or down the main if we did not see smoke or a headlight. The main at Markleville had a curve starting at the south switch that you could not see around, adding to the problem.

We left Shirley and ran the motor car 35-40 mph, slowing down almost to a stop at the road crossings. As we neared Markleville we looked across the curve for smoke. With no smoke visible, we came around the curve to the south switch ready to start backing up if #71 was coming over the north switch. Heading in the siding you could see the smoke from #71 about a mile north of town in a swale (low area of land sometimes marshy) but could not see the headlight. The manual block signal was clear for #71 at Markleville because the operator did not have any idea where we were. It was the section foreman's responsibility to stay clear of trains. Several years later they started using track car permit form M. The dispatcher controlled the motor car movements. With the form M, a train and a motor car could not be in an opposing move like we were in this story.

This is some information that most people are not aware of taking place in the everyday operations of the railroad.

Maurice Lewman

Maurice worked the Michigan Division from 1947-1981. He then worked on the Bee Line from 1981-1992. From 1947 until august 1950, he worked on the section at Shirley and Markleville. In 1950 he started firing on steam and then on through the diesels. Maurice said, "I had the pleasure of working with C. C. Staley and Ron Buser many times."

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